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Treeless Mountain

So Yong Kim

Treeless Mountain is the story of two little girls – six-year-old Jin (Hee-Yeon Kim) and four-year-old Bin (Song-Hee Kim) – who are forced into an unfamiliar world when their mother leaves them in the care of their extended family, promising to return when she has found their deadbeat dad. Navigating in a very adult world, Jin, wise beyond her years, quickly takes on the role of interpreter for her little sister, and valiantly tries to protect her from their alcoholic aunt. When their mother finally does return, only to move the girls to their grandparents, Jin’s disappointment and hurt is palpable. Although not entirely autobiographical, writer-director Kim has said that the film is inspired by events from her early childhood in Pusan, and that she intended the film to be a letter to her mother. This makes the difficult journey of these two little characters even more poignant and heartbreaking.

Without artifice, cheesy music, or special effects, Treeless Mountain has a purity and restraint that is reminiscent of some of the best films ever made about childhood, like Ponette, or Kes. As Truffaut was blessed with the discovery of Jean-Pierre Leaud in The 400 Blows, Kim has been very lucky to discover in her two non-professional leads two extraordinary actors. Hee-Yeon Kim was found in an elementary school in Seoul City, while five-year-old Song-Hee was auditioned along with her fellow housemates at a Korean orphanage.